TEN THOUGHTS ON...CITY HALL By John Schioler (Article)
1.Sparks receives more public attention than any other street in the City, most of it negative. Much of it misplaced, exaggerated or out-of-date.
2. Neither the Sparks of the 1960's, as the premier shopping street in the City, nor the decline in the 1980's, will return. However, the Street has gradually but permanently changed its character in part because the federal government now dominates the Street and is intent on using much of the space for non-commercial purposes.
3. In addition, the weather in winter, the desire of shoppers to drive to big box stores, the population drift to the suburbs, the construction of more office towers on the Street, poor off-peak transit service, the expected expansion of the Rideau Centre and the decline of available short term parking combine to make an increase in the number of stores or an improvement in quality highly unlikely.
4. Sparks is not a "mall" in the Bayshore sense of the term. It is essentially a business street (offices and banks) that provides some retail shopping and personal and food/ beverage services, mainly to workers in the area.
5. Reintroduction of vehicular traffic on the Street would probably increase retail business, but that is not going to happen. Ottawans, even those who never go down to Sparks, are in love with the pedestrian concept. At most, we might one day have a downtown circular trolley system.
6. The hope of making the Street substantially residential will not be realized. The 35 units to be built into the office tower going up at O'Connor, while welcome, will not alter the Street's character or bring out crowds in the evening. The same is true of the NCC's plan to tear down buildings at Metcalfe and put up a bigger condo structure in their place.
7. The restaurants and patios serve the people working downtown and the tourists that pass by. There are no basic changes in view that would induce restaurateurs to upgrade their services or to induce people from outside the area to make Sparks a dining destination.
8. The arrival of the CBC on the Street was heralded as a breakthrough for activity. The result has, unfortunately, been the opposite: fifty metres of retail has disappeared to be replaced by blank, dark glass walls; regular access to the studios is from Queen St. not the Mall.
9. Sparks certainly looks much better than it did fifteen years ago as a result of renovation of the facades on the north side, the drop in vacancies from 20% to 5% and the three major building projects on the south side. Proposed removal of the heavy green pavilions will complete this trend. Only the pigeons remain a blot.
10. Attempts to make the Street like the Byward Market, Elgin Street or the Sparks of old have failed despite repeated, expensive and well-intentioned efforts to do so. Instead of running after hopeless dreams, the time has come to work within the parameters of the possible and concentrate on smaller and incremental improvements.
P.S. I was Chair of the Mall Board a decade ago and my spouse has had a successful clothing store on the Street for the past fifteen years. We've followed the ups and downs closely for all that time and are modestly optimistic about the future.
Tags: John Schioler